3 Most Important Rules for Working Teens

If you're a teenager with a job -- or a family member of an employed teen -- you should be aware of the protections offered by The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. The FLSA mandates restrictions on child labor. Individual states have additional youth labor rules and regulations; any time the federal and state laws disagree, the law that provides the most protection for young workers applies.

"Child Labor Is Alive and Well and a Problem for You" discusses employers getting caught and fined in Massachusetts. The incentive for the crackdown was a number of on-the-job deaths of teen workers. Responsible employers should refer to the Child Labor Provisions for Nonagricultural Occupations Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, published by the Department of Labor -- but just in case they don't, here's what teen workers need to know.

Check State Laws

The federal government does not require that youths get special work permits or parental consent. Many states do require various forms of paperwork before employers can hire teens. State Document Requirements for Employing Teens summarizes the rules for each state, including how long the documentation must be kept on file by the employer. You may also contact your state's department of labor with questions about child labor laws.

Different Standards for Different Ages

Teens should be aware of the minimum age requirements for working youth. If you are instructed by your employer to engage in activities that violate child labor laws, discuss the legal situation with your employer and communicate that you are trying to protect the company as well as yourself.

The minimum age for any employment is 14, but people this young may only work in specific occupations and for limited hours that do not conflict with school. Fourteen- and 15-year-olds may not work more than three hours on a school day or eight hours on a non-school day. They may not work more than 18 hours per week during school, but may work up to 40 hours during non-school weeks. It is illegal to employ a 14- or 15-year-old for more than 40 hours per week when school is not in session.

Sixteen is considered the basic minimum age for employment by the federal government. When they are 16 and 17 years of age, youths may be employed during the same hours as adults in occupations not declared to be hazardous by the Secretary of Labor.

If It's Not Specifically Permitted, It Is Forbidden

This is more important than it seems at first blush. Everyone is used to thinking the other way around. For example, it is illegal for employers to ask an adult employee to work over 40 hours per week, unless they are compensated for the additional hours with time-and-a-half pay. Therefore, it is legal to require an employee to work up to 40 hours per week.

When you work as a teen, your employer must consult the list of what they can do, not what they cannot do. If something is not listed on the list of acceptable and legal work duties for youth, then it is illegal and forbidden. For example, teenagers may be employed to do office and clerical work, including operating office machines. On the other hand, although your boss may ask a worker over the age of 18 to run across the street to deliver a document on a regular basis, he should check local laws before asking a teenaged worker to do the same. It is legal to ask a youth to travel on foot to deliver a document; however, if you are 14 or 15 years old, you may not be employed by any messenger service. Therefore, if you are 15, you may be asked by your employer to walk a document to another office, but you may not be asked to do so on a bicycle. Also, you may not be required to ride in a vehicle to deliver a document. Best practice for youth is to get a clear explanation of their job duties. If you feel uncomfortable or unsure, check the lists linked to above. 

Summer jobs are wonderful opportunities for youth and co-workers. Teenagers learn valuable lessons that make them desirable employees later in life. Co-workers benefit from the extra help during the busy season, and they get to train workers who may come back every summer for a number of years. Youth and employers alike should know the rules beforehand, so that it will be a positive experience for everybody involved. 

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